The phase is characterized by a change in the paternalistic relationship between mentor and mentoring partner. The nurtured champion has become more independent and empowered. The nature of the relationship has to change. Sometimes, negative feelings and hostility can mark this phase. However, if the mentor and the emerging champion work together, they can move to the redefinition phase where the relationship is reshaped to meet new and more collegial needs.
I remember dealing recently with a challenge within a mentoring relationship. I wondered what was causing the strife between the two until it dawned on me that the mentor was failing to give the protégé space to become his own man. It was time for cutting the dependence on the mentor and the protégé was ready but the mentor was not. With some help and counsel the mentor realised that he had to let go and release the protégé. Now they are working on redefining the relationship. It was almost like a teenager who wanted to asset his independence while the Father was continuing to treat him as a child. This causes immense stress to both parties.
You rarely have perpetual mentoring relationships. This is one thing people struggle with. Mentoring relationships are not until “death do us part, so help me God”. Sometimes you outgrow the relationship and need to wisely transition without breaking the friendship. Once you achieve the objective of the mentoring relationship, there is need to either release each other or redefine the relationship. A mentor should be able to close the chapter when somebody grows from being a net receiver of knowledge to being a peer.
Barnabas was the lead person in his relationship with Paul. But there was switch as you study their lives when Paul became the leader. Barnabas did not walk away accusing Paul of taking too much upon himself. Others would have sulked and complained that Paul is too full of himself. “He forgets that I took him under my wings when everybody had forgotten him. I rescued him from anonymity”. Barnabas had the maturity to release him to become who God wanted him to be. Do you as a leader have the maturity to release somebody who is under you? Mentors should not manipulate their protégés by reminding them what they did for them and so try to keep them in the relationship. Many mentors destroy good relationships by over exaggerating their contribution to the protégés and forgetting that they also derived value form the mentoring relationship.
One of my mentors struggled with release and would act as an overbearing parent who fails to release his adolescent child. Mentors can destroy the relationship by holding too tightly to the leaders they develop. A word of caution to mentors: Do not tie your identity and ego to the emerging champion. Hold him loosely and be ready to release him into his destiny … with celebration if possible.
One participant in a mentoring seminar I ran told a harrowing story of abuse from the mentor when she felt that she needed to separate and move on. The mentor threatened that she would never succeed because her success was linked to her grace and the relationship with her. The mentored champion felt some welcome relief when I told her that she was responsible for the relationship and so was free to establish the time of separation. It is not the mentor who determines that. If the relationship no longer adds value, because it has run its course, the protégé has a responsibility to initiate a transition. The mentor should not protest. This is the natural progression of the relationship.
Are you intimidated as a leader when someone you raised up grows up until he is exalted above you? Someone you shepherded could rise above you. You should have the stamina and stability to handle that. Even in organizations a time may come when the person you mentored is promoted above you. We do not promote people to their level of incompetence simply because they have been there longer. When people beneath you rise above your level, have the grace to celebrate their success. This is why mentors need a healthy dose of self-esteem, self-efficacy and sense of worth.
Howard Hendricks mentored many students at Dallas Theological Seminary who went on to do great things for the church. One of his students, Chuck Swindoll, returned to his alma mater to become the president of the College while Howard Hendricks, his mentor, was still lecturing there. The mentor became a subordinate to his former protégé. Many wondered how the situation would evolve and even Swindoll himself was worried about the turn of events. But Hendricks graciously subordinated himself and made life easy for his student. What a mentor! What a man! In my book Howard Hendricks is both a champion and champion–nurturer extraordinaire!
Mentor, there is nothing wrong with releasing your protégés. Many times if you insist on the relationship past its due date you eventually destroy it and ruin your legacy. Nurtured champions are like arrows in the hand of a mighty warrior which achieve their greatest impact when released from the quiver and shot out to touch and influence the world.
Mentor, do not keep your arrows in the quiver. Release them by due date. Your legacy is tied to how powerfully you shoot them out of the bow into their future. Launch them out. Your arrows are useless if they remain in your quiver. Develop a habit of emptying your quiver regularly. The target is the future. Do not keep them in the now.